On the bright side, ultraviolet (UV) radiation can be used to prevent and cure rickets and kill bacteria and molds. And sunlight, or some other source of UV radiation, is an essential ingredient without which our bodies cannot produce vitamin D.

Unfortunately, exposure to UV radiation is not entirely beneficial. UV radiation causes the classic “sunburn.” Reddening of the skin, or erythema, experienced with sunburn is the result of the skin’s reaction to UV radiation, which causes the capillaries (small blood vessels) in the skin to become dilated. An array of products in industrial settings may also produce UV radiation. Welders are exposed to one of the highest levels of indoor UV rays.

Employee exposure
If your employees are working in an outdoor environment, or with equipment that produces UV exposure, definitely add UV protection to your agenda. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health published the following facts:
  • Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers.
  • One in every six Americans develops skin cancer at some point in their life.
  • Sun exposure causes at least 90 percent of all skin cancers.
  • Most of a person’s lifetime sun exposure occurs before the age of 18.
  • Skin cancer is almost completely curable when treated in its earliest stages.
Although requiring workers to apply sunscreen or perform their job in the shade may slow production, the benefits of maintaining a healthy and active workforce are significant.

Who’s at risk?
Some people are more susceptible to the effects of UV radiation than others. Your ancestry and the amount of sun exposure in the country where you or your relatives were born often determine the amount and type of melanin in your skin. Melanin in the skin provides pigment (skin tone) and creates a tan. When you are exposed to UV rays, your melanin travels to the outer layer of skin, causing your skin to darken and creating what we know as a tan. Melanin serves as a built-in shield to protect skin from the harmful effects of UV radiation. However, there is a limit to the protection that it can provide.

Some industrial chemical exposures that appear harmless can increase the skin’s sensitivity to UV radiation and lead to a burn with much less UV exposure than it would usually take to cause a burn. Certain medications, such as tetracycline (an antibiotic), can have the same effect. Workers exposed to UV radiation on a regular basis should check with the manufacturer of any products they use. If a product falls under this category, simple solutions such as wearing gloves or other protective coverings during UV exposure can eliminate the problem.

Types and treatment
Typical sunburn is a first-degree burn; meaning skin is red and tender with no blisters. The presence of any blisters automatically makes it a second-degree burn, which is more serious and should be treated differently. Don’t put ointments or creams on any burn, including sunburn that is more than first degree. You’ll thank me for this advice when you go to the emergency room for a second-degree burn and they have to scrape off the ointment in order to treat you!

To treat a burned area, gently remove clothing from the affected area, making sure the patient does not become cold, which causes other problems. Don’t forcefully remove any clothing affixed to the burn. If this occurs, cut the article of clothing from around the attached area, allowing you to expose the rest of the affected skin without causing further damage.

After removing any necessary clothing, initiate first-aid, which includes applying cool, wet cloths to the burned area; applying a soothing cream to a first-degree burn; and treating second-degree burns with cool compresses, but not ointments. For first-degree and minor second-degree burns, an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen (Advil™), naproxin (Aleve™) or aspirin may help relieve the discomfort. Since burns may be worse than they appear at first, there is no set rule as to when to seek medical attention. As a rule of thumb, seek medical attention if the burn is severe, getting worse, not getting better as expected, or if the victim has nausea, vomiting, a feeling of general weakness, fever, headache or severe thirst.

Precautions and protection
As with any form of radiation, your best protection is distance and shielding. The further you are from the sun, the less likely you are to suffer a burn. Sand, snow, concrete and water can reflect as much as half the sun’s rays onto your skin. You may think you’re protected in the shade (such as on a boat), but you may be getting much more exposure than you think because of these reflected rays. The further you are from such surfaces, the less likely you are to burn.

Keep protection methods simple. If you cannot avoid exposure to the sun, the best remedy is to use one of the widely available sun blocks. Sun blocks carry an SPF (sun protection factor) number — the higher the number, the greater the protection.

If your job requires you to wear impermeable gloves or other protective gear, always check with the manufacturer before using sun block or general moisturizing lotion. Some lotions may compromise the integrity of gloves and cause them to leak. Special lotions may be required for this purpose.

Another remedy to protect you from the sun is wearing long sleeves and long pants. As uncomfortable as this can be in the summer months, it’s worth it in the long run.

Remember, a small dose of sunlight is good; it helps keep bones strong by producing vitamin D. The key words are “small dose.” Wear sun block and you should be fine.